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March Madness predictions 2019: Instant picks after NCAA bracket unveiling

Here are our instant picks for the 2019 NCAA tournament.

The tone for this college basketball season was set on opening night in the Champions Classic, when Duke embarrassed Kentucky by 34 points in Indianapolis and put the rest of the country on notice that this could be the most talented team of Mike Krzyzewski’s career.

What followed was four months of ferocious media attention focused on Zion Williamson. The Duke superstar seemed bigger than the sport in many ways, owning highlight reels all year long and nearly bringing the sports world to a halt when he sprained his knee against North Carolina in February.

Duke enters the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, but there’s an impressive group of contenders lurking below them. Gonzaga beat Duke at full strength to win the Maui Invitational. Michigan has the type of experience and balance that often thrives in March. Virginia is hoping for a breakthrough after suffering the biggest loss in tournament history last season.

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This is going to be a great tournament. These are our instant predictions from the moment the bracket was announced.

East region

Duke is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and the obvious pick to come out of the region. This feels like the easiest region despite the presence of Michigan State as a No. 2 seed — the Spartans had a good case for a No. 1 after winning the Big Ten tournament.

We’ll take Duke over Virginia Tech and Maryland over Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Duke over Maryland in the Elite Eight. Blue Devils to the Final Four.

South region

Virginia is the favorite in the South even after last year’s disaster against UMBC. The ‘Hoos have a relatively easy road to the regional final, where they’d have to face Tennessee, Purdue, or maybe even Villanova.

We’ll take Virginia over Oregon in the Sweet 16, Tennessee over Villanova in the Sweet 16, Virginia over Tennessee in the Elite Eight. Cavaliers to the Final Four.

West region

This looks like the toughest region, anchored by Gonzaga up top and Michigan as the No. 2 seed. The ‘Zags could have tricky games against the winner of Syracuse and Baylor in the second round, Marquette or Florida State in the Sweet 16, and the Wolverines or Texas Tech in the regional final.

We’ll take Gonzaga over Florida State in the Sweet 16, Michigan over Buffalo in the Sweet 16, and the ‘Zags over the Wolverines for the right to go to the Final Four.

Midwest region

North Carolina and Kentucky appear to be on a collision course to meet in the Elite Eight.

We’ll take the top-seeded Tar Heels over Auburn in the Sweet 16, Kentucky over Iowa State in the Sweet 16, and the Wildcats over UNC to break into the Final Four.

Final Four

We’ll go Duke over Gonzaga in a matchup that feels like the two best teams in the country. We’ll take Kentucky over Virginia in the other national semifinal.

Duke over Kentucky for the national title — but this time, it’s closer than it was in November.